TROUBLED WATERS: While the French seaside is traditionally associated with Brigitte Bardot and Saint-Tropez — after all, the country invented the bikini 70 years ago — it’s the burkini that’s the hot topic this season.

The debate swirls as the country’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed support for mayors of towns that want to ban the body-covering swimwear. This came as the resort towns of Leucate, Oye-Plage and Le Touquet were poised to join cities such as Cannes in banning the swimwear over concerns about religious extremism amid the country’s secular values.

Valls said a burkini was “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic,” while ruling out a nationwide law to ban the burkini.

On the web site of, an e-tailer based in Montpellier, South of France, burkinis are priced between 59 and 129 euros, or $66 and $145 at current exchange.

Marks & Spencer is among major retailers that introduced burkini models earlier this year. Mango and Uniqlo are among other brands producing clothing and accessories specifically tailored to Muslim customers.

That trend triggered intense debate in France with Pierre Bergé and Laurence Rossignol, the country’s minister for families, children and women’s rights, among those voicing their opposition.

In an interview with RMC television on March 30, Rossignol suggested brands that invest in the “lucrative” market for Islamic clothing destined toward European consumers were turning their backs on their social responsibility.

“I am scandalized. Having worked with Yves Saint Laurent for close to 40 years, I have always believed that a fashion designer is there to make women beautiful and grant them freedom, and not to side with this compulsory dictatorship, this abominable way of hiding women,” Bergé told Europe 1 radio earlier this year.

France banned face-covering headgear in public places — including burqas — in 2010.